Two sources familiar with the US Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into Facebook say that Mark Zuckerberg himself is now a target. According to The Washington Post, the agency wants to hold the company’s co-founder, chief executive and board chairman — Zuck is all of those things — accountable for mishandling Facebook user data.
And since Zuckerberg told Congress last year that he’s responsible for what happens at Facebook, the FTC’s idea to pin him with the blame for the company’s many, many misdeeds actually makes a lot of sense.
To be held accountable can mean a lot of different things in the United States of America. The Post’s sources say that the FTC’s idea for penalties includes “heightened oversight” as well as a requirement for Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives “to certify the company’s privacy practices periodically to the board of directors”.
The paper has also reported that Facebook is negotiating a multi-billion dollar fine to resolve the current FTC investigation. It’s unclear how much of this money could come out of Zuckerberg’s pocket.
The symbolic impact of nailing Zuckerberg himself with penalties is surely more important than money, especially since the 34-year-old has so much of it. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who recently criticised the FTC for taking too long on the Facebook probe, is certainly a fan of holding Zuckerberg accountable.
“[Zuckerberg] wasn’t just aware of Facebook’s invasion of consumer privacy, he signed off on it and publicly downplayed legitimate concerns,” Blumenthal told the Post.
“Holding Mark Zuckerberg and other top Facebook executives personally at fault and liable for further wrongdoing would send a powerful message to business leaders across the country: You will pay a hefty price for skirting the law and deceiving consumers.”
Imagine that: A tech company run by a 21st-century emperor of sorts harms its users again and again, and as a result, its leader gets in trouble.
It seems as though Zuckerberg has been asking for it, too. Here’s the full quote from the time Zuck fell on his sword in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce almost exactly a year ago, emphasis mine:
But it’s clear now we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook. I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.
But does Zuckerberg really mean that? What if the FTC decided to recommend criminal charges, and the young billionaire faced gaol time?
There’s no indication that this is a possibility. However, as the Post points out in its latest reporting, “Facebook has fought fiercely to shield Zuckerberg as part of the negotiations,” and if talks break down, the matter could end up in court.
Picture Mark Zuckerberg in a courtroom. It would almost be more fascinating than the circus on Capitol Hill last year, when he stood in front of all those cameras and failed to answer so many questions from lawmakers.
It’s possible that Zuckerberg really is scared of this FTC thing getting out of hand and possibly leading to bad things happening to him personally. Just a couple of weeks ago, Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for outside regulation.
He also posted the text on his Facebook profile. The second most popular comment reads, “I have faith in you that’s why I use Facebook.”